As I enjoyed this series of remembrances, smiling away at the humor and the love and the wonder of working INSIDE the magic of Disney's Magic Kingdom, the one thing I thought might be a concern was a risk other readers may find this book too cute, too happy, too positive to be believable. Suzanne and R.J. Ogren titled their collaborative work "Together In the Dream" because working at Disney was the realization of a dream for both of them, and they lived it and enjoyed it and appreciated it as the incredible opportunity it was. That really comes through in all the tales here, but the authors also exhibit a love and respect for each other that is obvious and heartwarming. I just wonder if, with all the cynicism I see floating around social media today, people may be tempted to see this as affected, as put on, as too "perfect" to be true. It's not. If I had to review this book with just one word, that word would be "Authentic." Let me tell you how I know this.
The book ends, and I don't think I'm really giving anything away here, with Suzanne and R.J. looking forward to celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary with a trip to Walt Disney World. Earlier in the book, Suzanne talks about how the Grand Floridian is their favorite resort and their love of visiting Mizner's Lounge. This is where Lisa and I had the great good fortune to meet this one-of-a-kind couple.
We had come to Mizner's as the first stop on our Monorail Bar Tour because we were hungry and I'd been told to not miss the pork belly appetizer they serve. There were no tables so we grabbed a couple seats at the bar and ordered drinks from a very busy, but very friendly bartender. The bartender, I wish I wrote down her name because she was wonderful, noticed and commented on our Happy Anniversary buttons. Within a few minutes the last couple of seats at the bar, right next to us, were occupied by another couple, also wearing Happy Anniversary buttons. The bartender pointed this out to all of us and we all introduced ourselves. Now, I can strike up a conversation with anyone, but it's not my favorite thing and I was pretty exhausted from a long drive, so I wasn't looking to get into any kind of deep conversation. Then we found out they were on a special anniversary trip just like us, that they had worked at Disney and were returning because of all the fond memories and an abiding love of the Disney Magic. OK, maybe these WERE our kind of people.
The Mizner's bar sits directly behind the little stage where the jazz band plays, making it a bit loud. We managed, despite this, to find out that R.J worked in animatronic painting and Suzanne in entertainment, that we all four worked with community theatres and that R.J. had served as a Navy combat photographer, possibly in some of the very same places my dad served with the Marines in Vietnam. I was entralled.
A table opened up and we moved there, ordered more drinks and some food (the pork belly is every bit as good as I'd been told), and continued chatting about R.J.'s adventures in the backstage of our favorite Magic Kingdom attractions, discussing the happy difference in the way troops are treated returning from today's conflicts versus what my dad and R.J. faced, wallowing in the joys of being married to our best friends, and sharing stories and photos on cell phones from our theatre productions (turns out we'd both worked on Into the Woods and 39 Steps recently). Before we knew it, a few hours had passed and Lisa and I had say our goodbyes if we were to make our tour complete and hit Trader Sam's Grog Grotto before closing.
During those hours we heard several of the stories you'll read in "Together In The Dream" straight from the proverbial horse's mouth. R.J. and Suzanne are in person just as excited about their time at Disney as they "sound" in the book. They appreciate the opportunities presented by their time at Disney, the people they got to meet and work with, and the behind-the-scenes secrets they were a part of. They love each other in such a sincere and obvious way that the joy they share was contagious. R.J. took obvious joy in requesting Suzanne's favorite songs from the band, Suzanne expressed nothing but loving admiration for R.J. and both were completely happy to let Lisa and I share in their evening. I was blown away to be sitting across from a man who not only had "cobwebbed" the Haunted Mansion, but had told me how to do it myself if I ever worked on a haunted house again. That was the magic of that evening, magic strong enough that I spent the next few hours in a sort of "did that really just happen?" state.
But it did happen, because R.J. and Suzanne are real, and really cool, people. And now YOU can meet them in the pages of this book. It's set up with Suzanne and R.J. writing alternating chapters, a device that works very well. They keep the pace uninterrupted and the timeline is basically smooth (and in all cases easy to follow even when it skips a bit or overlaps). They operate like runners in well-run relay race. Each writer has his and her own style, but both are conversational and interesting, with details that will leave Disney fans thrilled several times over. This isn't a "brag book." Things fell together and apart, there were successes and failures and both R.J. and Suzanne ended up leaving Disney to look for adventures elsewhere, but there is no bitterness or negativity of any kind.
These two had an adventure, lived a dream that many of us share, and they appreciate what that means to themselves.....and to their readers. The "Together" in the book's title means more than they may have intended, more than just R.J. and Suzanne finding theirs side by side with each other. They bring us, their readers, along for the ride, so we all get to experience the dream. Together.
Together In The Dream is available in both paperback and Kindle editions via Amazon here
You can also purchase direct from the publisher, Theme Park Press here